The following is cross-posted from the NRDC's Switchboard blog.
Wrapping paper sales drives, cereal box top campaigns, donation solicitations—as a child of California’s public school system, I was introduced early to fundraising. And while I have nothing but fond memories for the rotating disco ball awarded to me as a top magazine seller of my middle school, I am now beginning to wonder, what if there was a better way to close the funding gap?
Ohio legislators and schools have an answer: a resounding yes, in the form of energy efficiency. Recently named the nation’s leader in energy-efficient schools—259 of them LEED certified—Ohio’s education system, by using technologies and retrofitting inefficient buildings to use energy more efficiently, is redirecting capital from fossil fuels toward the schools’ bottom line: improving education. Implementing energy efficiency upgrades saves an average of $100,000 in annual operating costs, or enough money to hire two new teachers, buy 200 new computers, or purchase 5,000 textbooks.
While there are many factors that have led to this favorable outcome, including supporting state policies like Senate Bill 221, playing a central role is energy efficiency performance contractor Brewer-Garrett.
Providing energy efficiency services for more than half a century, Brewer-Garrett works in local schools, manufacturing facilities—including a cheese factory—, and commercial buildings to maximize the efficiency of their energy consumption and minimize their energy bills. Based in the Cleveland area, the company’s long-term success can be traced to the always-in-demand service they provide: lower energy bills.
“Money is tight in Ohio,” says Energy Service Sales Consultant Dan Mitchell. “[Clients are wondering]” where do you save money? How do you make improvements?”
Energy efficiency performance contracting is one surefire way. Through a partnership—“marriage, really,” says Mitchell, Brewer-Garrett guarantees that a client aiming to increase a building’s energy efficiency will see significant enough savings to makemoney off of their initial investment, sometimes within as little as two years. If a client does not see a project’s savings exceed its costs, Brewer-Garrett writes the customer a check for the difference. “We have a lot of skin in the game,” says Mitchell. “We’re not in the business to write checks.”
What’s more, the company, employing analysts, engineers, and contractors, offers not only audits and consulting, but also the engineering expertise to see a project through in entirety. “A turnkey solution,” says Mitchell, and one that helps clients unlock energy savings to reduce local pollution and energy bills.
In a region struggling to retain capital and jobs, saving money otherwise exported to import dirty energy is a very smart investment indeed. As more and more buildings realize these savings, more and more jobs are created, both by the building owners and by Brewer-Garrett, which, in addition to hiring nearly ten percent of its 150 person workforce in the past year, is still on the lookout for more new employees.
Beyond increasing its own workforce, Brewer-Garrett is impacting the economy of Cleveland—and Ohio as a whole—by retaining local capital to support job creation. How does energy efficiency create jobs? As the amount people spend on energy bills declines, the money that would have been spent on fossil fuels is instead redirected to hamburgers and haircuts, which take more labor per dollar to produce.
The economic advantages of energy efficiency are indeed plentiful, but a different type of green benefit cannot be forgotten: the emissions reductions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. “The greenest energy is the energy you don’t use,” Mitchell points out. Having completed projects that cumulatively save 96 million kilowatt-hours annually, Brewer-Garrett’s work is equivalent to taking nearly 13,000 cars off of the road. Given that Ohio’s electricity is largely generated from dirty coal-fired power plants, these savings have significant environmental, as well as health, implications.
And many projects also have educational implications beyond the monetary savings they provide for schools, by engaging students in the upgrade process. Cleveland State, currently working with Brewer-Garrett on improvements slated to reduce the school’s energy consumption 20%—saving $62.9 million—by 2021, utilizes the efficiency initiative to educate students on energy management. Students of other Ohio schoolsare also benefitting from the hands-on learning opportunities that come with energy efficiency upgrades.
To see that student and faculty engagement plays an integral role in a school’s energy management scheme, Brewer-Garrett partners with energy education specialist theGreen Apple Project to translate their energy upgrades into curricula. Employing an energy project education toolkit that includes, among other things, technologies that measure the energy use of different appliances, the Green Apple Project engages students to be aware of energy management both in school and at home.
Especially in today’s world, lessons in energy efficiency seem much more valuable than the ones I got selling wrapping paper.
Image 1: Brewer-Garrett partnered with Great Lakes Cheese to increase the efficiency of their operations and drive down energy costs. Credit: Greg McDonald, Brewer-Garrett.
Image 2: The recently completed student center at Cleveland State is LEED certified. Credit: Brewer-Garrett.